Did scientists really create a monkey? That’s what some claim. The headline on cnn.com says, Scientists create chimeric monkey with two sets of DNA. As often happens, scientists overstated what they accomplished.
When scientists use the word create, it always makes me, and I’m sure many other people, wonder if they’re competing with God. Trying to equal God. In this case, saying, we can create life too.
This is going to come down to three questions.
- What does the word create mean?
- Was it really a chimeric monkey?
- What was this monkey made from?
These three questions, taken all together, will tell us just how close this particular project came to creating something in the sense that God created everything.
Does it really matter how we view the word “create”? I’ll just say, there’s a reason for knowing that there’s a huge difference between what people “create” versus what God “created”. And if we don’t get that, or lose track of it, it’s somewhere between very hard and impossible for us to truly understand that God is God and we aren’t. And if we don’t acknowledge that, well, then we become our own “god”.
Scientists create chimeric monkey with two sets of DNA
As mentioned, the CNN headline says scientists created a “chimeric monkey” with two sets of DNA.
The article begins with:
Scientists based in China have created a monkey chimera with two sets of DNA, experimental work they say could ultimately benefit medical research and the conservation of endangered species.
The monkey, which lived for 10 days before being euthanized, was made by combining stem cells from a cynomolgus monkey — also known as a crab-eating or long-tailed macaque, a primate used in biomedical research — with a genetically distinct embryo from the same monkey species. It’s the world’s first live birth of a primate chimera created with stem cells, the researchers said.
A proof-of-concept study detailing the research, which published Thursday in the scientific journal Cell, said it was notable that the monkey was “substantially chimeric,” containing a varying but relatively high ratio of cells that grew out of the stem cells throughout its body.
Let’s take a look at this in more detail.
What is a chimeric monkey?
What is a chimeric monkey?
A chimeric monkey is a monkey that has cells from two or more genetically distinct embryos of the same species. Chimeric monkeys are created by injecting embryonic stem cells from one embryo into another embryo. Scientists use chimeric monkeys to study human diseases and develop treatments, as they are more biologically similar to humans than chimeric mice or rats. However, creating chimeric monkeys is challenging and raises ethical concerns. 1From Bing Chat with the following sources: CNN; msn.com health; fiercebiotech.com; nature.com; medicalxpress.com
So chimeric isn’t a species. It’s a term for combining cells from two different animals of the same species. That begs a question.
Where does the term chimeric come from?
The word ‘chimeric’ comes from the word ‘chimera’, which is a mythical creature with parts of different animals. The word ‘chimera’ is derived from Greek khimaira, which means ‘year-old she-goat’ or ‘winter storm’. The word ‘chimeric’ was first used as an adjective in the 1630s to mean ‘pertaining to or of the nature of a chimera’ or ‘incapable of realization, preposterous’. Later, the word ‘chimeric’ also came to mean ‘composed of material from more than one organism’, such as chimeric genes or antibodies. 2 From Bing Chat with the following sources: merriam-webster.com; etmyonline.com
Interesting stuff. But then, how does it help with knowing whether scientists really created a monkey?
Was it really a chimera/chimeric monkey?
Well, it depends.
Google Bard gives a slightly different answer to where the term chimeric comes from. I don’t normally use Bard, since it doesn’t give sources. However, I was able to independently find sources for two chimeras in mythology. One was Greek and the other Japanese. Both of them had body parts of distinctly different species. Therefore, these chimeric monkeys do not meet the mythological origins of the word. But really, that’s more trivia than anything.
These monkeys do meet the more modern definition of the term. But even here, is that proof of anything? Or is it just doing something that corresponds to the process that brought about the definition of the word?
Please note – there are ethical issues here. However, even though this site is about various “gods” – in this case the God of the Bible or the god of science, today we’re only looking at the question of what, if anything, was created.
According to Discover Magazine, in their article Why Scientists Have Been Creating Chimeras in the Lab for Decades, the first animal-animal chimeras were attempted in the 1960s. The first human-animal chimeras were attempted in 1973. So in some ways, this isn’t even anything new.
That maybe begs a question – why do it? The goal was to create something that could be used for medical benefits, eventually for people.
Ultimately, did they create a chimeric monkey? Even the opening excerpt said it was “substantially chimeric“. But what does that mean? Here’s more on what they wanted and what they got.
“It is encouraging that our live birth monkey chimera had a big contribution (of stem cells) to the brain, suggesting that indeed this approach should be valuable for modeling neurodegenerative diseases,” said study coauthor Miguel Esteban, principal investigator at the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences and a researcher with BGI-Research Hangzhou, a nonprofit arm of Chinese genetics firm BGI.
“Monkey chimeras also have potential enormous value for species conservation if they could be achieved between two types of nonhuman primate species, one of which is endangered,” he added. “If there is contribution of the donor cells from the endangered species to the germ line, one could envisage that through breeding animals of these species could be produced.”
Therefore, did they get what they wanted? No.
Was it progress towards what they wanted? They think so.
Did they create a Chimeric monkey? Apparently, in their own words, substantially chimeric. I guess that means they were close, but while it may have been “chimeric”, it wasn’t a full-fledged “chimera”. It has met some of the criteria, but didn’t quite make it.
What was this chimeric monkey made from?
Ok, so they made a chimeric monkey. However, before we get into whether it was “created”, what did they make it from?
As the intro says:
The monkey, which lived for 10 days before being euthanized, was made by combining stem cells from a cynomolgus monkey — also known as a crab-eating or long-tailed macaque, a primate used in biomedical research — with a genetically distinct embryo from the same monkey species.
So, they injected stem cells from one monkey into an embryo from another monkey of the same species.
In other words, they added an existing thing – some stem cells – into another existing thing – an embryo.
Is this creating something?
What does the word create mean?
Whether or not these scientists, or any of the others who have been or will be involved in these types of experiments, created anything or not depends on how we define create.
Like so many words, even though we have a dictionary with multiple definitions for a single word, we often look at that word as always meaning whatever our favorite/chosen definition is. Among the various problems with that are these two. The differences over what a word means can be used to raise a doubt, or even change, someone’s usage of the word. Then, over time, the original meaning of that word can be completely lost.
One such word is evolution. Back in the 1950’s and prior, evolution used to mean the same thing as what we’d explain as Divine Guidance, or some such term. It means that people, other animals, and plants changed over time. But those changes weren’t random, they were guided/made by God.
But now, Christians don’t like the word evolution. Most probably don’t even remember that it used to be a Christian term!
Now, it’s totally a science word. Popular among atheists, humanists, unbelieving scientists, and so many others.
That leads to an important question. Is “create” another word like evolution? Was creation something only God did? And was everything people “made” something else? Let’s check it out.
What is the secular definition of “create” in 2023?
According to dictionary.com here’s the current definition of the word create:
verb (used with object),cre·at·ed, cre·at·ing.
- to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes.
- to evolve from one’s own thought or imagination, as a work of art or an invention.
- Theater. to perform (a role) for the first time or in the first production of a play.
- to make by investing with new rank or by designating; constitute;
to create a peer.
- to be the cause or occasion of; give rise to:
The announcement created confusion.
- to cause to happen; bring about; arrange, as by intention or design:
to create a revolution; to create an opportunity to ask for a raise.
verb (used without object),cre·at·ed, cre·at·ing.
- to do something creative or constructive.
- British. to make a fuss.
It feels odd that the first definition has to do with causing something unique that would not naturally evolve. I don’t say that just because it so neatly fits in with the chimeric monkey we just looked at. Rather, it’s because we saw how recent the technology is to do that kind of thing, at least with animals and humans.
Yes, words like evolution do change our understanding of words. But this seems rather quick to rise up over all those other meanings. For instance, I would’ve expected maybe the second one to be on top. But even there, I find the use of the word evolve to be overly scientific, since, as I remember it, creation used to be more of a thinking thing with creative ideas and such.
However, it is what it is. And if that’s how it’s viewed today, it says something about us.
What did “create” used to mean?
That definition surprised me so much, I looked into the origin of the word “create. Below is how Bing Chat responded, with the sources in the footnote.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the oldest definition of create is “to bring into being”, which dates back to the early 15th century. The word comes from Latin creatus, past participle of creare, which means “to make, bring forth, produce, procreate, beget, cause”. The Latin word is related to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, and to crescere, which means “to arise, be born, increase, grow”. The word create has also been used as an adjective meaning “created” since the 15th century, but this usage is now archaic. 3etymonline.com; dictionary.cambridgr.org
So we see it wasn’t originally a scientific definition so much as a list of various processes by which things are “created”. Furthermore, many of them had to do with natural processes, including natural birth and growth of people, animals, and plants.
What is the biblical usage of the word “create”?
Now that we see secular usages, dating from the 1400s and today, let’s look at the Bible.
Let’s start with this:
Creation and Origins. The Bible’s Hebrew word for “creation” (bara) and its Greek counterpart (ktisis) are usually reserved for the origin or beginning of things. However, even though God has completed his work of creation (Gen. 2:2; Exod. 20:11), he is not finished with his work in creation (John 5:17). Belief in a theistic creation and continued preservation of the world are often dismissed today as unscientific (see ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE; BIG BANG; ORIGINS, SCIENCE OF). This view is built partly on a misunderstanding of the biblical teaching on God’s creation and providence and partly on a naturalistic bias. It is notable that most founders of modern science, who were assuredly scientific in outlook, believed that evidence from the scientific world pointed to a Creator. 4Geisler, N. L. (1999). Creation and Origins. In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 165). Baker Books.
We see right away that in the Bible, there is a distinction between those things “originally created” by God, as opposed to those things “reworked” by God. By originally created, I mean initial creation of everything.
This probably brings to mind the issue of whether or not God created everything in six literal 23-hour days.
While the English Bible can appear to say this, beliefs held by way of the Jewish interpretation of their Hebrew Scripture don’t require that at all.
They do have the concept of a “creation day”, which is an unspecified amount of time to accomplish a task.
That can change the meaning of the word to something like “era” instead of “24 hours”.
The adjacent inset box is about a (still in progress as of this writing) series on creation in Genesis, including explanations of things like creation days. If you want to go straight to the question of creation from nothing, it’s at Creation from nothing? Earth was formless …
Here’s the Hebrew word we read as “created” in the verse which includes the words “In the beginning God created… “.
1343 I. בָּרָא (bā·rā(ʾ)): v.; ≡ Str 1254; TWOT 278—1. LN 42.29–42.40 (qal) create, i.e., make something that has not been in existence before (Ge 1:1); (nif) be created (Ge 2:4); 2. LN 42.29–42.40 make, form or fashion something out of elements that exist (Ge 6:7; Isa 65:18; Jer 31:22); 3. LN 42.7–42.28 do, i.e., bring about, perform a task, with an emphasis on the uniqueness of the event (Ex 34:10; Nu 16:30; Isa 45:7); 4. LN 90.51–90.55 causes something to happen (Am 4:13); 5. LN 12.1–12.42 (qal act. ptcp.) the Creator, i.e., a title of a supernatural being (Ecc 12:1; Isa 40:28; 43:15+); 6. LN 13.67 unit: בָּרָא לְ־ ־ִי טָהוֹר לֵב (bā·rā(ʾ) l- i-y ṭā·hôr lēḇ) restore my purity, formally, make for me a pure heart, i.e., bring back to a prior state (Ps 51:12[EB 10]+) 5Swanson, J. (1997). In Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Logos Research Systems, Inc.
As you can see, unlike our English word, there’s a lot in here about God. Some of it isn’t though. Here’s why. There are various forms of the Hebrew word we read as create. Below is an explanation of how the split is made between the words – בָּרָא (bārāʾ) (for God’s creations) and various other forms that are about what people do.
(bārāʾ). vb. to create. Used only of God creating, never of humans making things.
This verb is used only of creative acts performed by God. It appears five times in the creation narrative of Gen 1–2: God created (bārāʾ) the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1; 2:4), the creatures of the sea (Gen 1:21), humankind in his image (Gen 1:27), and creation as a whole (Gen 2:3). It also appears in other books, especially Isaiah. Isaiah says that after the exile God will create (bārāʾ) a cloud of smoke during the day and a flame of fire by night over Mount Zion (Isa 4:5). God created (bārāʾ) the ends of the earth (Isa 40:28); the heavens and earth (Isa 42:5; 45:18); human beings in general (Isa 45:12) and Israel in particular (Isa 43:1); light and darkness (Isa 45:7); and righteousness and salvation (Isa 45:8). He promises to create (bārāʾ) the new heaven and new earth (Isa 65:17). Psalms also speaks of God creating (bārāʾ) human beings (Psa 89:47); the heavens, angels, and lights of the sky (Psa 148:5); and north and south (Psa 89:12). David asks God to create (bārāʾ) a clean heart in him (Psa 51:10). 6Peach, M. E. (2014). Creation. In D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Lexham Press.
Conclusion – Did scientists really create a monkey?
In Hebrew, as least as it was used in Old Testament times, these scientists didn’t bārāʾ anything. They did create something, but it was differentiated from anything God created. Furthermore, it was understood that the chimeric monkey, as well as everything else people make, was made from something that already existed. From something that ultimately was created (bārāʾ) by God.
I wonder. Is it a loss of the importance of God that led to one word meaning create, rather than different words to distinguish between what people create and what God created?
And now, is it ignorance, arrogance, or just plain not thinking about it, that has us using the word create for us making things and we look at God’s creation as being pretty much like ours? Maybe even just like ours.
But think about that image at the top again. It was a monkey sitting in a science lab. Where did all that stuff in the lab come from? Did we make everything from nothing? Or did we re-form stuff God created into the objects that exist in science labs?
Even with the chimeric monkey? Who “created” the stem cells and the embryo from which the chimeric monkey came to exist? It wasn’t the scientists.
It reminds me of an old joke. Some scientists were talking to God and said they could create a person from dirt, just like He did. So one of them reached down and grabbed a handful of dirt. At which point, God interrupted them, and said, “Get your own dirt!”.
Maybe some scientists think they’re like God. Maybe some people think scientists are like God. But they aren’t. People have been trying to be like God ever since the Garden of Eden. And look where Adam and Eve got all of us! It’s only by knowing and acknowledging the past that we can even begin to try to learn from it.
I get it that not everyone will look at this and think it’s like an attempt to be God. But too many will. Obviously, from those who think creating things like chimeric monkeys is God-like, we have a long way to go.
Image by cwgsu request to Bing Chat / DALL-E 3 for
An oil painting of a chimera monkey sitting on a table in a science lab.
- 2From Bing Chat with the following sources: merriam-webster.com; etmyonline.com
- 4Geisler, N. L. (1999). Creation and Origins. In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 165). Baker Books.
- 5Swanson, J. (1997). In Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- 6Peach, M. E. (2014). Creation. In D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Lexham Press.